Allergic Reactions in Pets

Pets,  just like humans, can have allergic reactions to just about anything. The reactions can range from mild itching, to hives and whelps, or even life-threatening anaphylaxis. Allergies occur when a substance the pet is exposed to triggers an overactive response from the immune system. Allergies can develop slowly over time, or can develop suddenly.

The most common allergic reaction in pets is that to fleas. The flea saliva has a protein component that causes the pet to itch every time they are bitten. Sometimes, you never see the flea because the pet grooms themselves and can ingest the flea. The most common area for the dog to itch is just above the base of the tail. Once the skin is broken, and the dog licks and chews at the area, secondary skin infections set in. Here in Houston, the hot bed of all things allergic and the perfect storm of warm temperatures and humidity, is ideal for growing parasites and pollen. We recommend giving the heartworm and flea control medications all year round to control the fleas.

Allergies can also develop to injections, such as antibiotics or vaccines. Every effort has been made to improve the quality of vaccines and reduce the episodes of reactions, but every dog is different and so is their immune system. The majority of these reactions can occur rather quickly, so waiting around the hospital to check out after an injection is sometimes a good thing because the reaction can be treated quickly.

The other common allergen is food allergies, such as wheat, corn, beef and others. Dogs with food allergies can have intestinal problems and can have itching and swelling around the face and eyes. Food trials or blood tests can help to identify the culprit and then you have to avoid that ingredient in the diet. Special foods that have novel proteins, such as salmon and potato are often fed for a 6-8 week trial to see if the allergies improve. Once the dog is not itching, a protein is re-introduced to the dog one at a time to identify the allergen. Sometimes, the dog needs to stay on the special diet.

The next common allergen is inhaled allergens, such as pollen, dander, dust mites, etc. Yes, I have even had a Bichon that was allergic to human dander. The majority of these dogs present with anything from licking and chewing at their feet, to generalized itching, hair loss and secondary infections. Ear infections are also a common secondary development because the skin is inflamed from the allergy and the warm, dark, moist environment of the ear sets up the perfect growth media for yeast and bacteria.  Cortisone and anti-histamines will help relieve the symptoms for a short time but for real control, the allergen needs to be identified with either skin tests or blood panels. Once the specific allergens are identified, a special “vaccine’ of the allergy causing culprits are mixed up and desensitization injections are given to help reduce the symptoms over time.  Secondary infections are controlled with antibiotics and/or  medicated shampoos. Newer spot-ons have been developed to help heal the integrity of the skin barrier to help it fight off the secondary infections better and omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also help by reducing the allergic response and improving the health of the skin.

Another allergic causing culprit is insect or spider bites. In this scenario, the dog is outside playing, and then comes back in with usually a swollen nose and muzzle. Snake bites can also present with the same signs. If the swelling continues to worsen, a call or visit to your veterinarian is warranted.

The next allergic reaction that can occur is a contact allergy. The reason I am writing this post is because one of my patients had a possible allergic reaction to a common carpet freshener that was applied to freshen the carpet before the holidays. Because we are investigating this product with the company, I am not going to identify the product specifically, but give general recommendations on how to test products before applying them to your carpets.

The story goes as follows, the owners applied the carpet freshener as directed. Later they noticed the dog’ s skin was bright red and the pet had vomited. They bathed the pet in cool water to calm the skin, not knowing what had caused the reaction and the skin improved. The next morning the dog walked across the carpet and broke out in hives and big whelps. The pet was then presented to my hospital where we administered benadryl and some cortisone to relieve the allergic reactions. The owner then recalled that the pet may have had a slight reaction the last time they applied the product.  Now the owners are going to have to steam clean the carpets to remove the product.

Because pets have a lot more skin area exposed to the carpets, they may be at a greater risk for contact allergies or simply irritation. Since their noses are closer to the ground, they can also inhale the products, which may result in allergic reactions.

So, what can you do to see if your pet could have a problem? Just like when ladies have to test the hair dye before applying it to their hair, you may want to test a small amount of the product on the belly of your pet. If a red whelp or a red irritation develops, you may wish to skip that product and stick with steam cleaning.  If you suspect your pet may have had a reaction to a product, take your pet and the product to your veterinarian. Your pet should be bathed to remove any product from the skin and then treated with antihistamines. The product should then be reported to the company for further testing. You should also write down the UPC code and the product batch code. Most of these products have usually been tested rigorously, but a super sensitive pet may still have a reaction to just about anything.

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